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  • Pitfall traps are simply containers dug into the ground so the top of the container is level with the ground. Sometimes a small roof can be erected over the trap to keep rain out. Insects that are active on the ground are caught by falling into the trap, from which they cannot escape. Scientists often use pitfall traps to create an inventory of the insects present in an area.

    Rights: The University of Waikato Te Whare Wānanga o Waikato

    Insect pitfall trap

    A pitfall trap is buried flush with the ground surface. Crawling insects fall into the trap and are unable to escape until they are counted and released.

    In this activity, students place pitfall traps in various locations around the school, check the traps daily and record their observations.

    By the end of this activity, students should be able to:

    • create and monitor simple pitfall traps
    • identify areas of vegetation/habitats to place the pitfall traps
    • collect and record data about the types of insects caught in the traps
    • collect and record data about the numbers of insects caught in the traps
    • use an identification sheet to name some common insects
    • make inferences based on their observations.

    Download the activity file (Word) and the identification guide What Is This Bug? (PDF) – see links below.

    Nature of science

    This activity helps students practise the science capability ‘Gather and interpret data’. In making pitfall traps, students are gathering data by measuring the number of ground-dwelling insects in a specific location. Using data, students can make inferences about habitats.

    Related content

    Discover the wide range of our resources on insects, or explore the range of content under our invertebrates topic.

    Find out how to monitor flying insects in the activity Yellow pan traps – monitoring flying insects.

    Useful links

    Visit our We love bugs! Pinterest board with links to resources and community activities.

    Manaaki Whenua – Landcare Research has a lot of useful information, such as What is this bug? – a handy guide to common invertebrates of New Zealand.

    Visit the New Zealand Entomological Society website.

    Curious Minds is a government initiative that encourages and supports all New Zealanders to ask questions, solve local problems and uncover innovative science and technology solutions for a brighter future.


    This resource was developed by Morgane Merien, Dr Chrissie Painting, Tom Saunders and Dr Leilani Walker for the Curious Minds Buzz in the Garden project.


    This activity has been produced as part of a Participatory Science Platform (PSP) programme. The Buzz In the Garden PSP project has been funded through the South Auckland pilot of the PSP – a programme that is part of the Curious Minds initiative and funded by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment. The PSP is currently being implemented as a pilot in three areas: South Auckland, Taranaki and Otago.

    The South Auckland pilot of the PSP is managed by COMET Auckland (Community Education Trust Auckland). COMET is a council-controlled organisation of Auckland Council and an independent charitable trust. Its role is to advance education in Auckland by supporting education and skills across the region. COMET Auckland hosts the Auckland STEM Alliance, which is leading the pilot in South Auckland. The Auckland STEM Alliance brings together businesses, educators and government.

    The government’s national strategic plan for Science in Society [PDF, 1.2 MB], A Nation of Curious Minds – He Whenua Hihiri i te Mahara, is a government initiative jointly led by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, Ministry of Education and the Office of the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor.

      Published 22 October 2020 Referencing Hub articles
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